Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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In this moving account of the barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, leading Israeli journalist Isabel Kershner traces the route of the wall Israel is building and reports its profound effects on people living on both sides. Kershner provides rich and insightful portraits of Israeli settlers feeling abandoned on the wrong side of the fence; Palestinian farmers angry at being cut off from their lands and groves; Arab families split up in a town now divided by the barrier; and Israelis protesting that it is an...

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Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Overview

In this moving account of the barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, leading Israeli journalist Isabel Kershner traces the route of the wall Israel is building and reports its profound effects on people living on both sides. Kershner provides rich and insightful portraits of Israeli settlers feeling abandoned on the wrong side of the fence; Palestinian farmers angry at being cut off from their lands and groves; Arab families split up in a town now divided by the barrier; and Israelis protesting that it is an obstacle to peace. Exploring the reasons for the barrier and its political and moral implications, Kershner focuses on the people committed to their causes. As the future relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is being determined, this important book addresses one of the most controversial solutions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Isabel Kershner turns a complicated issue into a gripping story without sacrificing the nuances or the complexities. Barrier is an elegantly written and eloquent page turner."

— Bob Simon, 60 Minutes Correspondent

"Isabel Kershner has provided a distinctly human perspective on the Israeli security barrier. She weaves a compelling story, wonderfully written and told largely through the eyes of individual Israelis and Palestinians. But this is more than only the story of the barrier and how it is seen; it is also an explanation of the conflict and the pain it continues to impose on both sides. The Israeli quest for security and acceptance and the Palestinian yearning for dignity and freedom emerge unmistakably in this very moving book."

— Dennis Ross, chief Middle East peace negotiator for Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, author of The Missing Peace

"Nothing expresses the folly of the two peoples as this thing does. When viewed close-up, the barrier turns into a tall hideous curtain, still ugly even if made from cement rather than iron, swallowing cities and hopes. As with most walls in history, fear may have created the impulse to build it; but greed and other human faults determine its path. Isabel Kershner's book is not about the concrete and wire fences; it is about those who created them, the bombers as well as the mighty occupiers; but most importantly, it is about those victimized by its unwelcome and destructive presence. We hear their voices and feel their pain. More than that, Kershner's storytelling digs deeper into the strategic implications, making her book useful to experts as well as all concerned with the Middle East"

— Khalil Shikaki, Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah

"Barrier is superb. Extraordinarily balanced and perceptive, it is a sympathetic but unflinchingly honest portrayal of two peoples irreversibly entangled in their own historic tragedies. Veteran journalist Isabel Kershner portrays their conflict from the bottom up—through the eyes and voices of Palestinians and Israelis on both sides of the barrier. If you can only read one book about this conflict, this is it: It is brilliant and unique."

— Samuel Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel under Presidents Carter and Reagan, and former President, United States Institute of Peace

"Kershner carefully and humanely shows how the wall built by Ariel Sharon's government has not only exposed divisions but also created them—physically, politically and psychologically."—Washington Post Book World

Publishers Weekly
One of the effects of the highly controversial barrier being erected by Israel between itself and Occupied Palestine has been the creation of a weird nether-world dubbed "the Seam Zone," which Jerusalem Report editor Kerchner describes with both compassion and coherence. Using numerous interviews and impressive legwork, Kerchner conveys both the tragic necessity of a physical separation to shield Israelis from terrorism, as well as the bureaucratic nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions the arbitrary divide represents for the Palestinians caught on the wrong side as they are subjected to a barrage of hardships, humiliations and expropriations. Kerchner follows a plethora of protagonists, including academics, military fence planners, disillusioned kibbutzniks, Arab farmers cut off from their olive groves, Israeli antiwall activists and the parents of Arab "martyrs" who applaud their murderous progeny but crave peace with their Jewish neighbors. Her diligence pays off, and the rigorous in-the-field reporting and simple human empathy of this engrossing study more than makes up for a few easy generalizations on one or two contentious issues. Her volume provides stunning insights into the latest, and perhaps most potent, symbol of the impasse the Arab-Israeli peace process has lumbered into since the promising Oslo Accords over a decade ago. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Border walls are nothing new. But whereas some have come tumbling down in recent years, one is rising in Israel-and, as with most things there, is a source of conflict. Jerusalem Report editor Kershner travels the 375-mile length of the barrier separating the Palestinians of the West Bank from their Israeli neighbors, reporting on what she finds along the way, little of it cause for hope. The barrier, mostly of wire fence but also of concrete and steel, divides land and people. Palestinians regard it as "a new blight on the landscape," proof of apartheid and their unwelcome status in the new Israel. Israeli Arabs tend to favor the fence, "believing it to provide the clearest definition yet of their permanent status as citizens of the state." And, by Kershner's account, Israelis of left and right see the need for the barrier as a deterrent to terrorism, and particularly suicide bombers, although thus far it has not proved very effective. There are other reasons for it; says one thoughtful kibbutzim, "We need a fence . . . to put limits on the occupation in the Jewish mind." The need for such a wall is debatable, Kershner suggests, but building it has been a priority for the government of Ariel Sharon, who ordered that the fence not follow the Green Line marking Israel's 1967 border, as he had promised; instead, it zigzags in and out of Palestinian territory, even cutting off some Palestinian villages while protecting Israeli settler communities on the West Bank. One such instance, Kershner writes, "became a showcase of Israeli irrationality at home and abroad" when the barrier-built at a cost of about $3 million per mile-was pulled down and relocated on the Green Line. Other portions stillmark not that line, however, but what Kershner calls the "seam zone" between Israelis and Palestinians. "Fences have so far not made for good neighbors," Kershner concludes. A revealing report.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403968012
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/29/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Isabel Kershner is Senior Editor, Middle East, The Jerusalem Report and lives in Jerusalem. She has written for The New Republic and provided commentary on Middle East affairs on radio, including BBC.

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Read an Excerpt

Barrier

The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


By Isabel Kershner

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2005 Isabel Kershner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8745-9



CHAPTER 1

The Stolen Sunset


Sami Khadar leads as we clamber over a patch of long grass and thistles toward the base of the immense, glowering wall. Running for two kilometers along the 1949 armistice line, known as the Green Line, this curtain of concrete, part of Israel's new security barrier, divides the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilya from Israel's coastal plain, which lies a few meters away from us on the other side. Here, the Green Line, formerly an invisible boundary, has turned an ugly, depressing gray.

Khadar, a physically rounded, intellectual-looking 41-year-old with steel-framed spectacles, is sporting weekend stubble, this being Friday, the Muslim day of rest. He glances nervously in the direction of a steel- colored, cylindrical army watchtower built into the wall about 50 meters from where we are standing and points out the security cameras dotted at regular intervals along the top. "Are these people shooting or not?" he wonders aloud in Arabic-accented English, somewhat concerned for our safety and panting slightly from the minor exertion as we proceed gingerly across a narrow dirt path and up to the wall itself. "Why are these holes here?" he inquires, examining one of several hollow tubes that have been drilled through the otherwise opaque 8-meter high slabs, right above us. "Perhaps to let the wind through," he surmises. "It is the first time I see these holes."

The air tubes slant upwards from this side of the wall, presumably so that they cannot be used by local gunmen to shoot at the cars speeding along the ultra-modern Trans-Israel Highway, Israel's sleek north-south toll road that runs parallel to our dirt track on the other side of the barrier. If someone on the Israeli (western) side were to shoot through the tubes into Qalqilya, on the other hand, they would be aiming roughly at head height. Khadar stretches out a hand and touches the slightly corrugated surface of the wall, like a pilgrim arriving at a revered site. "It's soft," he says, meaning smooth.

Sami Khadar is the veterinarian at Qalqilya Zoo, the only zoo in the West Bank. Its cages, dingy and cramped, with bare concrete floors, have long served as a metaphor for this Palestinian city of 43,000, which now finds itself entrapped, surrounded by the security barrier from nearly all sides. Where the concrete wall ends, curving around at the corners a little before coming to an abrupt stop, the chain-link security fence picks up. The fence courses through the fields on the outskirts of Qalqilya, looping around it from the north and south and turning the city into a virtual enclave. There is one narrow opening in the fence to the east, like the neck of a bottle, where a bumpy two-lane road leads in and out of the West Bank. From the outside, Qalqilya, with its wall, guard towers, and fences, resembles a prison camp. "One man told me that my zoo is a small jail, and Qalqilya is a big jail," Khadar says, trying to raise a half-hearted smile.

For the Israelis, the barrier is less an expression of choice than a measure of last resort. Since the outbreak of the Al-Asqa intifada in September 2000, ceaseless infiltrations by Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen had taken a terrible toll as they crossed the Green Line into Israel with what security officials decried as "unbearable ease." In more than four years of violence around 1,000 Israelis had lost their lives, two thirds of them civilians and over half of them—men, women, and children—killed inside the Green Line. (During the same period, over 3,300 Palestinians were killed in Israeli retaliatory raids, some 650 of them minors under the age of 18.) Qalqilya itself spawned one of the worst outrages of the intifada when, in June 2001, Sa'id Hassan Hutari, a 22-year-old resident of the town, blew himself up in the middle of a crowd at the entrance of the Dolphinarium discoteque in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one Israelis were killed, most of them teenage immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were waiting to get into the club.

The suicide bombers proved a particularly potent weapon. While they carried out only 0.5 percent of the total number of hostile acts against Israelis, they were responsible for more than 50 percent of the deaths. These human bombs would go off in buses, in cafés, and in shopping malls, their explosive belts and vests packed with nails, bolts, and ball bearings to maximize the numbers killed and maimed. They posed an existential threat to the Israeli way of life, with parents scared of going together to a restaurant or supermarket for fear of leaving behind orphans, and with children not knowing if the bus they were riding to school would ever arrive. The terrorists also posed a strategic threat, dictating a war policy and vetoing any chance for a resumption of political talks.

The Palestinian terror campaign peaked in March 2002, when a Passover-eve suicide bombing in Netanya's Park Hotel killed 30, bringing the number of Israeli dead to over 130 in that month alone. In response, the army launched Operation Defensive Shield, reinvading all the Palestinian cities of the West Bank in the biggest military campaign seen there since Israel conquered the territory in the 1967 war. At the same time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reluctantly gave in to mounting public pressure and brought the plans for the security barrier to the cabinet table for approval, setting in motion one of the most expensive and ambitious national infrastructure projects Israel has ever undertaken.

Once completed, the 600 kilometers of barrier twisting along the length of the West Bank will mostly consist of wire fence, with only five or six percent of the total route made up of solid concrete walls. In Hebrew the barrier is invariably referred to as "the fence," evoking images of orderly boundaries and good neighborliness. In Arabic the Palestinians have dubbed it "the wall," reflecting their utter rejection of what they see as a new blight on the landscape. The obvious allusions to Berlin are compounded by the fact that most of the concrete walls have gone up in densely populated Palestinian areas for all to see, rather than in the open countryside, generally because the concrete panels, which are 45 centimeters thick, take up less space than the fence apparatus, minimizing the need to demolish buildings in the urban barrier's path.

The rest of the barrier is a formidable system at least 45 meters wide. At the center is a "smart" wire fence equipped with electronic sensors and video cameras that immediately alert the security forces of any attempted infiltrations. A military patrol road runs alongside, flanked by two sand tracking paths that would reveal the likely direction taken by any infiltrator who succeeded in getting through. On the Palestinian (eastern) side lies a deep ditch to prevent vehicles from crashing through, and the whole apparatus is bordered by mounds of coiled razor wire on either side as an extra means of deterrence, and to mark the limits of the closed military zone.

Stressing the purely security aspect of the barrier, Israeli officials go so far as to call it an "anti-terror obstacle" at times, so as to leave no doubt about its purpose, while Palestinian officials routinely refer to it as the "racist separation" or "apartheid" wall, an unwelcome physical intrusion that divides Arabs from Jews in some parts and Palestinians from Palestinians in others. The semantic difference reflects a conceptual chasm. If this barrier promises Israelis a sense of security, to the Palestinians it feels like a noose closing in, cutting into the territory of their future state and creating what they fear will become a series of barely connected "Bantustans" in the West Bank.

The Qalqilya wall has become a particular symbol of perceived Israeli inhumanity in the Palestinian anti-separation-barrier campaign. Khadar is almost proud to show it off, like a national treasure. This two-kilometer stretch of concrete went up along the city's western boundary in the second half of 2002, designed both to stop suicide bombers reaching the Israeli coastal cities and to protect the Trans-Israel Highway from Palestinian sniper fire. It has not been 100 percent effective: One night in June 2003, gunmen from Qalqilya slunk through a water sluice running under the wall, shot dead a 7-year-old Israeli girl, Noam Leibowitz, who was sleeping in the back seat of her parents' car driving along the highway, and escaped back into the city the same way. The entrances to the water tunnels have since been sealed with alarmed metal grates.

Qalqilya's geographic location at Israel's narrowest point, where only 14 kilometers separate this West Bank city from the Mediterranean Sea, has defined its recent history for good and bad. In 1948, the city was used as a staging area for Iraqi forces that had joined the Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese troops, along with other Arab irregulars, in an all-out attack on the newly declared Jewish state, hoping to cut it in two. At the moment of Israel's birth on the night of May 14–15, a young Ariel Sharon was crawling along the ground here, leading a platoon to blow up a bridge on the outskirts of Qalqilya, under the cover of darkness, in order to slow the Iraqi advance.

Israel's victory in the war simultaneously sealed the Arab defeat, known in Arabic as the nakba (catastrophe) that turned some 700,000 Palestinians into refugees, stranded across new borders and unable to return to their former homes. After the war, representatives of Israel and the Arab states had congregated, under the auspices of the United Nations, on the Greek island of Rhodes to officially terminate the hostilities. In what would be a harbinger of the results of many future efforts to bring peace, the Arab countries rejected any possibility of a permanent treaty and accepted only an armistice, or an ending for the time being, of active fighting. By the end of the negotiations over the armistice lines, Israel was established on 78 percent of the territory of what had been Mandatory Palestine. Of the remaining 22 percent, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, fell under Jordanian control while Egypt took over the Gaza Strip in the south.

Still the hostilities continued, with constant Palestinian infiltrations over the Green Line. Sharon was again in command in the field in 1956 when a reprisal raid against Qalqilya went badly wrong and turned into a pitched battle with Jordanian troops, leaving 18 Israelis and over 100 Jordanians dead. Moshe Dayan, one of the outstanding Israeli commanders of 1948 who personally negotiated the Green Line with Jordan in 1949, was by now the army chief of staff. He had ordered the raid against the Qalqilya police fort in retaliation for a series of attacks from the area by Palestinian fedayeen (literally, fighters willing to sacrifice themselves), attacks which had culminated in the murder of two Israeli workers in the orange groves of nearby Tel Mond. Dayan was criticized for what was seen as bad planning, but the Qalqilya battle also led to a serious debate in the defense establishment about the effectiveness of such deterrent operations in fighting Palestinian terror. After all, the Arabs had come to expect the reprisals, and yet the terrorist infiltrations continued unabated.

On June 7, 1967, in the heat of the Six Day War, Qalqilya was conquered by Israel, along with East Jerusalem, Nablus, Tulkarm, and Jericho, ending Jordan's war for the West Bank. Right after the war, Dayan, who was now defense minister, discovered that a third of the buildings in Qalqilya had been blown up by Israeli forces in punitive actions for sniper attacks. This was contrary to the Israeli government policy of the time that called for avoiding harming the civilian population in the war. As a result, some 12,000 of Qalqilya's residents had fled or been chased away. Dayan visited the West Bank town, famous for its citrus, and accompanied the mayor, Hajj Hussein Ali Sabri, to the surrounding groves where many of the new refugees were camping out under the trees. With Dayan's support, the government donated building materials and money for the reconstruction of the town. A year later, when Dayan was injured in an accident at an archeological site, several Arab mayors from the newly conquered West Bank towns came to visit him in the hospital. He was particularly touched by the visit of Qalqilya's mayor, Sabri, who brought him a cluster of oranges still on the branch. Dayan wrote that a personal relationship had formed between them, "two men jointly concerned with the fate of their populations—their bread, their homes, their livelihood, and their health."

Israel's sweeping victory in the Six Day War left it in control of all the territory of Mandatory Palestine and reestablished access to Judaism's holiest sites. For the vast majority of Israelis, the reconnection with the ancient Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank hills was an exhilarating moment; some saw it as a messianic sign of redemption. For the Palestinians, however, it was a second nakba that left almost a million of them under Israeli domination and sent a second wave of refugees east across the Jordan River.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, it was unclear exactly what Israel wanted in the newly conquered territories, how long it would stay, or what kind of regime would emerge. Dayan, for one, envisioned a functional arrangement whereby the new Israeli rulers would keep open borders and encourage economic integration with the Palestinians, canceling the need for permits and allowing them free movement and access to the Israeli job market. He also established an "open bridges" policy allowing the Palestinians of the West Bank to continue selling their produce over the river in Jordan. Dayan wanted Israel to interfere as little as possible in the day-to-day life of the territories, advocating a policy whereby "an Arab can be born, live, and die in the West Bank without ever seeing an Israeli official." As he once told a journalist, "We must not become involved, issue permits, make regulations, name administrators, become rulers."

Nearly 40 years later, the same questions about Israeli intentions in the conquered territories could just as well apply, while Qalqilya and its environs have turned into the absolute antithesis of all that Dayan desired. Qalqilya's immediate neighbors today include the Israeli coastal plain suburbs of Kfar Saba and Kochav Ya'ir on one side of the Green Line, and Alfei Menashe and Tzufin on the other, two of the scores of Jewish settlements built by Israel in the West Bank since 1967. Precisely because of this proximity, Qalqilya has arguably suffered more harshly than any other West Bank city from the Israeli-imposed security closures and restrictions on movement following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. At first a strict checkpoint regime regulated the flow of people and goods in and out of the city, often closing it down altogether. Three years later, the completion of the first phase of the security barrier had put Qalqilya in virtual solitary confinement.

The 6,000 laborers from the city who used to be able to walk across the Green Line every day for casual work in Israel now stayed home, and the 40 joint business ventures that had opened up over time between Qalqilya and towns in Israel shut down. The Israelis who would flock here on weekends for cheap shopping, dental work, and car repairs stopped coming, prohibited by military order from entering this city—and other cities in the West Bank—following the brutal lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah a few days into the intifada.

Access to the city was also blocked to the 45,000 Palestinians in the 32 rural villages that make up the Qalqilya governorate, Palestinians who look to the city as a center of commerce and services. Moreover, the fences around Qalqilya separated villagers from their lands within the city environs, while landowners inside Qalqilya were separated from their plots outside. With no industry to speak of, Qalqilya still relies on its agricultural base. Yet according to the Palestinian Authority-appointed mayor, Ma'rouf Zahran, some 58 percent of Qalqilya's farmland has ended up beyond the barrier, with the only access to it via a number of farmers' gates that open for a few hours per day, and that on occasion remain closed altogether for security reasons. The UN Relief and Works Agency put unemployment in the city at 76 percent by mid-2004. During the four years of intifada, Mayor Zahran frequently claimed that some 10 percent of Qalqilya's population had abandoned the city in despair.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Barrier by Isabel Kershner. Copyright © 2005 Isabel Kershner. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Stolen Sunset

• Paradise Lost

• The Bulldozer

• Arafat's Intifada

• Right Vs Right

• The Holy Seam

• The Big Prison / Gaza Syndrome

• Beyond the Pale

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2005

    Great Book!!

    I have never read such a comprehensive analysis of day by day life between Palestinians and Israeli citizens. After reading this book, now I can say I really understand how deep the Middle East conflict is. Isabel Kershner managed to give a very transparent and clear picture of the reallities in that part of the world. You don't have to be a scholar to be able to read this book. I recomend it to any person who whants to have update information about what is going on in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Superb writing.

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